The results of the first comprehensive survey of Illinois’ clean energy sector found that there are currently 96,875 people employed in the sector throughout the state. That is more than the combined total of people working in real estate or as accountants, and enough to fill Soldier Field in Chicago 1.5 times over. The survey was conducted by BW Research Partnership for Clean Energy Trust in partnership with Environmental Entrepreneurs, The Environmental Law & Policy Center and The Natural Resources Defense Council. An interactive website was created to showcase the survey results.
The Illinois clean energy sector will add its 100,000th worker in 2014, according to projected growth rates. Forty percent of Illinois clean energy businesses surveyed plan to hire more workers in 2014, a pace that equates to a job growth rate of 9 percent. Companies working in renewable energy made up 21 percent of the clean energy businesses in Illinois, while 62 percent of clean energy businesses in the state are mainly focused on energy efficiency, including low energy lighting, heating and cooling controls, and smart grid technology.
Illinois efficiency standards require that utilities reduce electricity demand by 2 percent each year but spend less than 2.015 percent of rates paid by customers on efficiency projects. Illinois is the No. 1 state in the U.S. for green buildings.
This latest survey underscores Illinois’ position as a leader in clean energy. The state ranks eighth in the 2013 U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index of states with the strongest policies for reducing environmental footprints. It is in the top 10 for energy efficiency leadership for the first time in 2013, which the report attributes to utility efficiency standards that went into effect in 2008. Illinois is also at the forefront of energy storage technology development. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a U.S. DOE supported $120 million public-private partnership in the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill., is developing next-generation batteries.
Illinois also leads in wind power. The survey found that in Illinois wind businesses are 41 percent bigger than the average solar firm. Wind farms in Illinois generate enough electricity to power 750,000 homes, and the state ranks fourth for total megawatts installed, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Illinois also ranks fourth for both the number of utility scale wind turbines and the number of wind-related jobs. Earlier this month, Ikea announced its investment in a 98 megawatt wind farm in Hoopeston, Ill. The wind farm will generate enough enough electricity to power almost 39,000 average Illinois homes, or 18 percent of the electricity used by Ikea Group worldwide.
Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requires that by 2025 at least 25 percent of the electricity supply comes from clean energy. There are challenges to the implementation of the RPS due to changes in the structure of the state’s energy market, and on-again, off-again tax incentives have made renewable energy investors wary, the survey found. However, the survey respondents cited maintaining a strong RPS as the top area of importance in terms of growing their clean energy businesses in Illinois.
The clean energy sector in Illinois provides good jobs. More than a third, 35 percent, of clean energy jobs are in engineering, research, manufacturing and assembly, and many are in STEM careers (science, technology, mathematics and engineering). Clean jobs are in demand, as the survey results show. More than half of employers said they found it difficult or very difficult to fill new clean energy positions over the last 12 months.
Image credit: Scott Wilcoxson